Chandigarh’s Sector 15 is home away from home

A student ‘hub’ of sorts, this sector is conveniently located close to premier institutes such as Panjab University, PGIMER, and other colleges and offers reasonable food and lodging options
Updated on Jul 18, 2018 06:43 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By Vidhya Narayanan

For many young men and women who come to Chandigarh every year to pursue higher education in its premier institutes, Sector 15 is home.

The youngsters prefer to rent out rooms and apartments here because most of the educational institutes are close by. These include Panjab University in Sector 14, the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) and Punjab Engineering College in Sector 12, the colleges in Sector 10 and 11, and the Government Medical Specialty Hospital in Sector 16.

Marjan Laila Mateen, an Afghan national who came to the city in 2010 to pursue graduation from Post Graduate Government College for Girls- Sector 11, says she was awestruck by the cultural diversity of this place. “For me, it was a crash course in different cultures of India. As the sector was home to students coming from different parts of India and abroad, it was a cultural amalgamation of sorts.” Now back in her home country, Mateen feels nostalgic about the place. “It’s like a second home for me. I have fond memories of its vibrant market. Given a chance, I would love to walk through those lovely lanes yet again,” she says.

One of the oldest sectors in the city, 15 has a number of government employees, bureaucrats, lawyers, judges, politicians, industrialists, doctors and medical practitioners living here.

Residential quarters for working nurses and a senior citizen’s home have also been set up here.

How it became a PG hub

Most of the student population started renting out rooms and apartments or started living in hostels in the 1980s. It turned into a paying guest (rentals without a formal legal agreement) hub in the late ’90s, when coaching centres started mushrooming here.

Saurabh Joshi, a former councillor of the sector, whose family was one of the first inhabitants of the here, says, “I remember back in the ’90s, there were some well known coaching institutes such as Ace Tutorial, Excellence etc for physics, chemistry and commerce here. The PG culture started with students coming from far off places to study in these centres.”

Many locals, however, found it to be a nuisance. “It’s understandable. Most of the students are away from their homes, and with the new-found freedom, they want to explore the city’s nightlife. People who live with their families and little children here tend to get disturbed by these youngsters driving around in their cars playing blaring music,” says Joshi.

Having grown up in the sector, Joshi also remembers how in the early 2000s, when video games became a fad, a lot of gaming centres came up in the main market of the sector. “The teens would all rush to these centres to play popular games such as Super Mario, Contra etc,” he says nostalgically. As a child he would also borrow books from the Lajpat Rai Bhawan library.

“Those were simpler times. Now the sector is one of the most densely populated areas in the city,” he says.

Kripal Singh, the owner of Amrit Sports Musical, one of the oldest shops in the sector, echoes his views. “There was a time when you rarely spotted a car here. People used to commute on cycles. In the 1960s, when I first set up my shop here, I remember how we would see a flurry of cyclists passing through the sector to get to their workplaces and the same group returning in the evenings. Now there are so many cars parked here at any given point of the day that you hardly get space to even walk.”

In those days, a 10 marla house costing around Rs 10,000 seemed expensive. “I remember wanting to buy a house in this sector for that amount, but the elders in the family advised me against it, saying that you could buy a land for that amount. Now, this property costs around Rs 4 crore and most of the house owners have let it out on rent or as PG accommodation and earn good money.”

Many people, exploit the PGs, says Joshi. “Most of these PG owners charge hefty amounts from students, and offer accommodation without getting proper tenant verification done. This leads to security problems as anti-social elements posing as students find refuge in such places,” he adds.

Many of these PG accommodation owners have started using services lanes to create an alternate entrance to their houses, which is illegal, says Joshi.

Food joints

Another reason why students flock to this sector is because of its restaurants and eateries, many of them offering mouth-watering north Indian and Chinese cuisine.

About the stalls selling noodles and momos, Joshi says, “These came up in the past few years. Many of the people running these eateries are the ones who used to cook at the ‘Dragon’ restaurant in the market. Run by a Chinese family but around 10 years ago, it downed its shutters sometime back and the cooks started their own businesses.”

For students, meanwhile, eating out is an essential part of their campus life. Neha Mehta, an alumna of Panjab University, says, “I used to come to the food stalls after classes. There are always these little nooks that find their way into your heart and this was one of the good memories of my time at PU. Of course I was always paranoid about hygiene and the way food was prepared but I loved gorging on chilly paneer with garlic noodles and fried rice. I remember my non-vegetarian friends always used to rave about the momos there. I guess such places have their own charm and attract crowds regardless of the fact they are not too fancy.”

Hollywood connect

In 2012, when Hollywood director Kathryn Bigelow wanted to recreate some scenes leading to the killing of terrorist Osama bin Laden by US Navy Seals in Abbottabad, Pakistan, for her movie Zero Dark Thirty, she chose the Patel market of Sector 15 for the shooting. While some reports suggest that Bigelow and her crew initially wanted to shoot in Abbottabad but the Pakistan government denied them permission. Others suggested that the crew itself was wary of shooting there fearing security issues.

Abbottabad’s loss, however, was Chandigarh’s gain. Overnight the market site was given the look of a Pakistani marketplace complete with Urdu shop signs and people dressed in Pathan suits strolling by. A local hardware unit, Ramgharia store, was renamed Shahzad Hardware store. An internet cafe and a phone call centre were also given Pakistani names for the sequences, while the ‘Regal Centre’ sported the signboard ‘Shahi Yunani Dawa Khana’ in Urdu.

While the locals were extremely excited at the thought of Hollywood movie being shot in the neighbourhood, the shopowners in the area were not too amused. A shopowner in the area, on the condition of anonymity, said, “Well, what can we say; for the three or four days that the crew was here, our business was hit. They shot mostly during the evening, which are the peak market hours.”

‘One of city’s most expensive sectors’

Jaswant Singh Johar, one of the first people to set up their shops in this sector, remembers a time when there was nothing but wild grass growing here.

The shopkeeper whose family moved to Saha in Yamunangar, Haryana, after partition, says he set up business in Sector 15 in the early ’60s. “I was 11 when the partition happened. Our family had agricultural land back in Pakistan and my father was a military man. Just overnight, we had to leave everything and move. Initially, the train that brought us to India offloaded us in Jalandhar. We spent the winter there and after a few months moved to Saha Kasba as some of our relatives lived there,” he says.

“Later, our family moved to Chandigarh in search of a livelihood. These days, only well-to-do families can afford to live in Chandigarh but back then, only those who had no means of livelihood but were willing to work would move here,” he says.

“After we moved here in 1957, we set up a grocery store in Sector 14 to cater to the contractors, workers and labourers involved in the building of Panjab University. In 1958, we bought a plot in Sector 15 and built a single-storey unit. We kept the ground floor locked and lived on the first floor. It wasn’t until 1962 that we started running our business from here. For some years, we were simultaneously running businesses in Sector 14 as well as 15. Ultimately, we shifted completely to Sector 15.”

Johar recalls how the once secluded sector soon became a hub of activity because of the the prominent establishments in its neighbouring sectors. “Sector 15 in itself has nothing. It gained prominence due to the big establishments such as the university, PGIMER etc. Today, it is one of the costliest sectors. Everyone who comes to study or work tries to get an accommodation here due to its proximity to important places.”

For bookworms and shopaholics

  • Second hand book market

A treasure trove for those who love reading, you can find second-hand books and magazines of almost all genres. Especially a hit among those preparing from competitive exams, you can buy books at less than half the original cost.

  • Lajpat Rai Bhawan

One of the oldest buildings in the sector, it is now used for fairs of different kinds. It also houses the Dwarka Dass Library, which has over 85,000 books in English, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu. You can also find some rare publications of the pre-independence era, here.

  • Underpass

The only vehicular underpass in the city is over here, connecting the sector to Sector 11. Part of Le Corbusier’s master plan for the city, it was built to ease the flow of traffic along the Madhya Marg.

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